#neverforget My 9-11 Story

It still seems like just yesterday.

I had moved into my dorm at Douglass College just days earlier. As I sat in the dining hall on that beautiful morning with my best friend Erin chatting about our schedules, I remember hearing the morning radio show talking about the Twin Towers. I also remember Erin and I wondering aloud why talk radio was being broadcast in the dining hall and why were the hosts talking about something that had happened in 1993? We tuned it out; it became nothing more than white noise in the background. We were college students and it didn’t seem important. We finished breakfast and headed off to class.

I went to my Women and Public Policy class; it was a class of about 50-60 students and I think I was the only freshman. As my classmates settled into seats in the small lecture hall, our professor, Jen, apologized as she placed her cell phone on the podium. She explained that she had to keep it turned on because she a had a flight out of Newark later that day and she needed to keep up on any delays due to the incident in the city.

That was the first that I heard about a plane crash.

This was college in 2001.  I had a TV in my room but it wasn’t hooked up yet. We had the internet but it was hardwired and most of my time was spent on AIM, not looking at news sites. I had a cell phone but it definitely wasn’t smart.  In class, I had a notebook and pen, so there was no way to seek out any more information than what the instructor shared with us. I hadn’t heard about a plane crash, but everyone in class seemed fairly calm. We talked about what had happened for a few minutes and most of us assumed it was just an errant pilot; a tragedy, but nothing too life-changing for the majority of us. There were no details available.  So from 9:50-10:30am we continued on with our normal class schedule, discussing women in the current political system. I packed up my bag at the end of class and followed a group of students out of the building. I remember walking back to the dorm, over the Hickman Bridge, listening to people around me say they heard that classes were canceled for the rest of the day. It seemed strange, but I figured I would get details when I made it back to my room.

As I walked into my building, I could sense the panic. The stress and tension in the air hit me like a slap in the face. Girls were walking around crying.  A group was huddled around the one television in the back lounge.   I walked up the three flights of stairs to my room and immediately saw that my answering machine was blinking wildly. Each message was from my mother, trying to get in touch with me. I grabbed my cell phone, which had been turned off in class, but the call would not go through.  “All circuits are busy” was the only response I got when I dialed.  Cell phone lines were jammed.

As I kept hitting the redial button, I watched my floormates pace up and down the hall. One of the girls walked past my door no less than twenty times in 2 minutes. She was trying to get in touch with her father who worked in the Twin Towers. Others were just trying to find their parents, even if they didn’t work in the city. We all just needed the reassurance of talking to family.

Unable to get through to anyone on the phone, I took my cell phone and walked back downstairs to the lounge where I sat on the couch with my dormmates, staring at the images that were being flashed on every station on our common room TV. No one spoke. We’d only met a few days earlier and suddenly the scariest event of our lives was occurring in the city we thought of as our own.  The city.

After a few minutes, I couldn’t watch the news anymore. The news anchors were so unsure and so frightened; they kept showing the same clips over and over and they didn’t have any answers.  I hoped I could find out more on the internet.

At 11:00am, I finally got through to my mother (while reloading news sites over and over) who she was relieved to hear from me. She told me you could see flames from the beach by our house and that there was a huge cloud of smoke and a smell enveloping Middletown. She asked if I wanted to come home, and while I considered it,  I chose to stay.  I wanted to be with my friends, and I admit that the idea of driving home was frightening.  None of us knew what was happening or what would happen in the next few hours.  It felt safer for us all to stay in one place.

It wasn’t easy, though. The panic in my dorm just increased all afternoon. My friends and I sat in stunned silence, alternating between watching the television coverage and reading each other updates from the internet. At one point, fighter jets flew over campus and people ran for the basement. No one knew what would happen next. Were we at war? That sense of terror was something unimaginable only hours before.

We watched the news for hours on end. I sent IMs and received IMs from friends who were at school in the city, in DC, and across the country. People I hadn’t talked to in months came to mind. I went to a tiny high school, only about 60 students in a graduating class, and our network of students was reaching out to one another. We just needed to know that everyone was all right. I remember the anxiety we all felt while we checked on all “our” Maryland people, friends who went to school near the Pentagon and Washington, DC. Eighteen years old and we were frantically searching for people just to make sure they were still there.

AOL Instant Messenger was our lifeline. Away messages served as life affirmers.  Emails were sent back and forth.

I will never forget signing on to our high school email network and reading the public announcements, a forum usually reserved for messages about upcoming school dances and PTA fundraisers.  The tragedy began to hit home as some of my peers posted messages asking for classmates to look for names on lists- parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins. As each new manifest was posted by the media it became more and more apparent that some of those who were missing would not be coming home that night.

This wasn’t supposed to happen to people you knew…

Later that day, my mother got through to me again, telling me that my brother’s best friend’s dad was missing. That’s when I made a decision. I went home.

I stayed home. School was cancelled for days. We weren’t sure when classes would start again.  Most of my floormates went home, too.  We didn’t know if we were at war, if terrorists would strike somewhere else in the coming days, if we were safe.  Suddenly college didn’t seem that important.

At home, my mother told me how on the morning of September 11th, ferries came from the city to our harbor. Ferries that were based all over NY just packed with passengers from NYC. People who just had to get somewhere besides Manhattan. Ferries would load up and sail to any dock available outside of Manhattan.  Passengers stumbled off the boats- people covered in ash, people in shock. They were hosed down immediately by men and women in hazmat suits, for fear that they were carrying biological agents.

Over the next few days, the newspapers talked about how my town, Middletown, was the town in NJ hit the hardest by the tragedy. We lost so many. So many people from my church, people I knew from middle school and high school. Parents, siblings, friends, colleagues all of them. We were a commuter town and every family was touched in some way. Today, Middletown is known as the place that lost the most residents on 9/11 after NYC.  There are memorials all over town.  There are scholarships and 5K races each year in memory of those who were lost.  It’s a constant part of so many lives.

We all grew up that day and our lives changed forever. Safety and security became the most important social and political issues.  9/11 effects us to this day; we take our shoes off at the airport, we arrive 3 hours early, and we still get a little too nervous when flying. But this isn’t new for my students. For them, it’s just the way it’s always been. September 11th is history to them, something they read about each year. For my entire teaching career, I’ve had to be careful of what I’ve said on 9/11 because there was always a student in the room whose life was touched by the tragedy.  But now?  My students were not born when the tragedy struck.  If their family lost a loved one, my student most likely never met them. My current freshmen were born in 2005.

That’s hard for me to comprehend because 9/11 is such a huge part of my life.  But for my students, it’s something their parents and other adults talk about.  The visual of a plane hitting the towers live on television isn’t part of their life; that’s something I can’t imagine.  But for my students today is September 11th “capital letter because it’s a month” not September 11th “a day that changed our lives forever so it has forever been ingrained in our minds”.

For me, it is hard to fathom not being able to articulate exactly where I was that day, that hour, that minute.  While I am glad they have no memory of the terror our nation, especially the tri-state area, experienced that day, it still leaves me stunned.  It’s such an integral part of my life that I can’t imagine it not being a cornerstone in others’ lives.  Yet I am grateful for that blessing, too.  September 11th will always be a day that stops me in my tracks, but I am glad that it’s history for my students. I  hope they never experience anything like we all did on that day. But I also hope that they never forget.

We will never forget.
God Bless all those lost on 9-11-01……

This post was originally written on my personal blog in 2003.  It has been revised and reposted each year since then.  

Slice of Life Day 31

Back in February, I introduced the Slice of Life Challenge to my 9th-grade students.  I challenged each of them to blog for 31 days in March (and required each of them to blog at least ten times during the month).  There was a lot of moaning and groaning when I handed out the assignment.

Today is the last day of the challenge and the majority of my students blogged for all 31 days!  Many of them posted reflections today, and I’ve been tearing up while reading them.  They’ve learned so much during this project and it makes my heart grow three sizes bigger.  I love that they get to know each other better by reading and commenting.  I love that I get to know them better.  I love that they become better writers and build stamina.  It’s honestly one of the best projects I do in my class.  I don’t repeat many projects from year to year, but Slice of Life is a non-negotiable for me.

Now that the month is over most of my students will stop blogging, but a few will continue on their own.  I have a student interested in starting a book club, a student interested in starting a music review blog, and a few looking into current events/politics blogs.  How awesome is that?

Slice of Life Day 30

I am exhausted, but also inspired! Today I attended the NJCTE annual spring conference. It was held at Ridgewood High School, which is a hike from my house. (Side note: the high school looks like a castle!). The presentations were great, but I was most excited about presenting Ibi Zoboi with the 2019 Becker Award.

Ibi’s books are some of my favorites and she is a recent transplant to NJ! Her speech today, about remixing the canon, was inspiring and epic. I was honored to introduce her to the attendees. And I was lucky enough to read her upcoming middle grade novel. I highly recommend it!

Slice of Life Day 28

Our spring hike in pictures:

My first turtle sighting of the season. It’s hard to see him/her, but there were a few sunning themselves in the lake!

Great blue heron in flight.

A trio of mallards in the pond. They were in the weeds until we came along and Dublin decided they needed to be heeded.

A great blue heron hunting at the back end of the lake.

Two Aussies trying to fish in the lake. It was frozen and cold most of the winter, but Navan walked right in today!

It was over 50° and gorgeous today! Blue skies and a light breeze, it was perfect weather for a hike after school. Spring has sprung!

Slice of Life Day 27

Things I am excited about:

  • I am introducing Ibi Zoboi at the NJCTE conference on Saturday. She is the winner of this year’s NJCTE Becker Award and will be giving a keynote.  As chair of the committee I will get to introduce her, which is fantastic.  I’m so excited for our members to hear from her
  • My first pairs of Rothy’s are arriving tomorrow. Rothy’s shoes are made from recycled water bottles and I’ve been anxious to try them. When I found out they offer a teacher discount I finally placed an order. If you aren’t a teacher they have a referral program; if you use my link, we both get $20 off!
  • I finished some grading tonight.  Woohoo! I still have way too much grading left to do before grades are due, but progress is progress!
  • NJSLA testing (what used to be called PARCC) is only 2 days this year!!!
  • The weather has been gorgeous lately.  I really like winter, and I’m still sad we barely got any snow, but it’s been 50 degrees and breezy these last few days.  Who doesn’t enjoy blue skies and a cool breeze?  Plus, now it’s light out until after 7pm!  I can walk the dogs after school without worrying that it’s about to get dark.
  • I’m working on revisions for a piece I submitted to a few places.  I got feedback from one editor and will resubmit (as requested) after I revise it.

This week is still crazy, but the next few days are a little calmer.  Thank goodness!! Things ramp up again over the weekend, and they stay crazy until next Thursday.  Phew!

Slice of Life Day 26

I don’t think I’ve done a list entry so far this month, so it’s about time for one. This week is crazy and time is not on my side.

Stuff I’m thinking about:

  • How amazing Angie Thomas’s On the Come Up is. It took me a little bit to fall in love, but 90% of the way through and I’m blown away.
  • Last night I had trouble sleeping and I’m paying for it today.
  • My kids are wrapping up the Slice of Life challenge and are starting to reflect on it. Two of their reflections made me tear up.
  • I just put a hold on Pete Buttigieg’s book at the library. I love that his husband posted that they are both Hufflepuffs (according to the official Pottermore quiz). So this is what it’s like when someone from my generation runs for president?
  • I’m probably on some sort of list at the library because I constantly recommend that they purchase new audiobook titles. Seriously, I do it more than once each week.
  • Tomorrow night I have to remember to participate in the #nerdcampnj twitter chat.
  • The NJCTE spring conference is this Saturday and I need to start preparing.
  • I have so much grading to do.
  • I have so many books to read!
  • I submitted some writing to a periodical and I’m anxiously awaiting a second follow-up response.
  • Speaking up is exhausting.
  • I think it’s time for me to hit the hay. I need more than 4 hours of sleep tonight.
  • Slice of Life Day 25

    One of my (volunteer) side hustles is therapy dog work. Dublin is a certified therapy dog, and we try to make at least one visit per month. He loves therapy work and is looking forward to our monthly reading events starting up again.

    I’m also a certified evaluator for our program. This means I test prospective owners and dogs after they complete their therapy training class. I had a last minute test tonight so I had to head over to the shop around 8pm. The test went well, but I was mostly excited to hang out with some of my favorite dogs. While waiting for the training class to end I hung out with two giants-a German Shepherd and a Bernese Mountain Dog. Both are convinced they are lap dogs, so they spent a lot of time trying to fit in my lap.

    Needless to say, my two were very suspicious when I got home. I got sniffed up and down as they tried to figure out why I smelled like their friends. Luckily, a treat distracted them!